Proportional Response

Someone is going to have to pick up the hot potato of political reform, and something tells me our shell-shocked administration is not going to take the initiative. It needs to be prodded firmly and offered some constructive suggestions. So here goes.

The argument for doing nothing is, in their eyes, a strong one. It would appear to be giving in to one of the “five demands, not one less” and thus showing weakness. Also, any proposals for change could be controversial so why kick over another hornets’ nest when you are still suffering the stings from the last one.

But the case for pressing ahead despite the dangers is compelling. The public opinion polls which proved so prescient in forecasting the outcome of the District Council elections consistently show overwhelming support from the community for progress in this area. And there is no excuse for not following the track laid out in the Basic Law. After all, declining to do the right thing out of fear of failure is also an admission of weakness.

The main target has to be election of the chief executive by universal suffrage at the next opportunity in 2022. The intention to do this ultimately is specified in Article 45 of the Basic Law. Only once this has been achieved can we move to elect the whole legislature by universal suffrage as well. But that is no reason not to undertake some sensible, practical reforms of the legislature in time for the next election in 2020. Because time is short, bearing in mind the need for amending legislation, we should start the process right away and give it priority.

The 35 seats elected through the geographic constituencies are determined by what is essentially a form of proportional representation. Authoritative International research shows clearly that the best and fairest results are achieved using proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies of between 4-6 seats each. That means three of ours -- Hong Kong Island, Kowloon East and Kowloon West – are in the sweet spot, but the other two -- New Territories East and West, which return nine seats each – are far too big. They should each be cut in half – perhaps with a north and south portion – giving us four constituencies with either four or five seats each according to population. A very modest step which can be delivered by local legislation, no downside for either camp, and ensuring a fairer result in future elections. It should be a no-brainer.

For the 35 seats in the other half of LegCo – the 30 traditional functional constituencies and the five super seats – we need to start the process of making them more representative in accordance with the requirement in Basic Law Article 68 that the ultimate aim is election of all seats by universal suffrage. The most obvious principle to embrace immediately is that corporate voting should be abolished. Politics is about people, so humans should be doing the electing rather than organisations. And there should be a minimum threshold for the size of electorate in order for that group to retain functional status. The exact number is less important than endorsement of the principle. For some people, adoption of these two measures would be sufficient for a first step. But there is also a slightly bolder reform option.

That would involve scrapping 10 of the existing functional constituencies and turning them into super seats also, electing all 15 on the same basis as the present five. The ten seats which now have only corporate voting lend themselves as obvious targets. But if this is too much of a stretch for 2020, then at least let us make a commitment to start scrapping the FCs in 2024.

For the CE election in 2022, we will probably have to accept as a starting point the package being offered by then chief executive Leung Chun-ying and his then chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngoh in 2014. It was at the conservative end of the spectrum then and was rejected in part because it was deemed to be too modest a step and partly because it offered nothing in respect of LegCo reform. The underlying message seemed to be thus far and (maybe) no further, take it or leave it. The proposal is still weak, but it can be tweaked to improve it. The nominating committee can be made more representative; the requirement for positive majority endorsement can be changed so that nomination is deemed to be valid unless a majority objects. Moreover, having it as part of a reform programme – committed progress in 2020, 2022 and 2024 – rather than being on a stand-alone basis may make it more acceptable.

There will be some in the blue camp who do not want any movement at all on political reform. They will see it as rewarding vandalism and violence. They will argue we should stand firm instead. And there will be many in the yellow camp who see this tepid set of proposals as grossly inadequate. We marched in the heat and suffered beatings by police for this?

The answer to the blues is that political reform is our constitutional duty. The answer to the yellows is that politics is always a compromise and half a loaf is better than no bread.

As for the administration, the message has to be that total paralysis is not governing, it is abdicating. It is the complete lack of response in this area that has contributed so much to firing up the protests of the past six months. It is no use saying you have addressed the subject while there is no official reform proposal on the table. Here is mine. Where is yours?